Thursday, July 30, 2009

City Receives Grants to Update Transportation Plan and to Improve Safety for School Kids

Earlier this month, the State announced Salem received two grants to update the Bicycle and Pedestrian Elements of the Transportation System Plan and to write a school-district-wide Safe Routes to School Program.

Back in March, the City applied for three Transportation and Growth Management grants. Two of the applications were approved, and Salem is one of only two jurisdictions in the state receiving two grants (the other is Clackamas county for plans in Estacada and for light rail). This is great news! (See the full grant/project list here.)

Federal Safe Routes to School Program helps fund the National Center for Safe Routes to School as well as the state program run through ODOT and local efforts. Former City Councilor Kate Tarter has been working on a program for Hallman Elementary, and neighbors are beginning work on one for Morningside Elementary. With this grant now, all schools will be able to participate in this program to make it safer for kids to walk and bike (and skate!) to school.

Updating the Transportation System Plan, the TSP, will bring current best practices to planning for bicycle infrastructure and will create a coherent list of projects that can be queued up and completed as funding sources are identified. The project list for the "Keep Salem Moving" road bond, for example, was generated using the priorities of the current plan, and almost all of the monies for bicycling were directed to striping bike lanes on the streets slated to be upgraded to "minor arterial" standards.

Currently, the plan emphasizes striping bike lanes on busy streets. As we saw on Commercial, where bike lanes aren't always maintained, and on Liberty, where the intersection lacks lanes in several places and the lanes themselves are not connected, bike lanes alone are not enough. To show a new bicyclist a map of Salem bike lanes is to show a map of Commercial, Liberty, River Road, Mission, Center, Portland Road, Kuebler - none of them places you would send a new bicyclist or your child to bike!

The update will work towards making good some of the unfulfilled promises in the current plan.
Historically, Salem's bicycle facilities have not provided continuous and connected routes for bicyclists...the community must develop an awareness that bicycles and motor vehicles are equal partners on the roadway.
The current plan is unable to accomplish these goals, as well as several other more detailed subgoals. Creating in the plan an actual roadmap to meet the goals will be an important part of the revision.

The Pedestrian Element will also be updated, and this will work towards making Salem a much safer and more pleasant walking environment.

Occuring concurrently, the Safe Routes plan and the Bike/Ped updates afford Salem a terrific opportunity to reshape the way we think of walking and biking.

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